In addition to the traditional legal marriage accompanied by a wedding license and ceremony, there are other relationships in Colorado that can impact a person’s legal rights. Couples in recognized common-law marriages have the same legal rights and responsibilities of spouses in traditional marriages including benefits, insurance, pensions, and inheritance.
Under Colorado family law, a common law marriage is a relationship where the participants intend to enter into a marital relationship by sharing a life together as spouses in a committed and intimate relationship of mutual support.
The spouses must agree to be spouses. They should have the legal capacity for marriage such as not being relatives or already married. Couples do not have to cohabitate for any minimum period.
Courts must often decide if a common law marriage exists. This may be complicated, and courts decide this issue on whether the couple engaged in a combination of the following behaviors:
- Holding themselves out as a married couple by referring to each other as spouses and how they introduce themselves.
- Identifying themselves as a married couple on tax returns.
- Obtaining works benefits such as health insurance as a married couple.
- Obtaining Medicaid, food stamps and other public benefits as a married couple.
- Using the same last name.
- Buying property together as a married couple.
In Colorado, it is unconstitutional to discriminate against couples in a common law marriage. For example, employers may not offer different benefits to employees in these marriages or by refusing to rent a dwelling to these tenants. Children in these marriages have the same legal rights as other children.
Deciding on the validity of a common law marriage may be important for those spouses who want to end that marriage or claim an inheritance. If spouses are applying for benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits, the agency with authority should decide the matter and the spouse may appeal their decision in court.
A recognized common law marriage is permanent unless a spouse dies, the marriage is annulled or the couple divorces.
After a spouse files for divorce, the court must determine whether there is a common law marriage. If this is established, the case then moves forward as marriage dissolution and the court will rule on custody, property division, maintenance, and other divorce legal issues.
Colorado and other states will recognize a common law marriage that is valid in the state where it began. If it began in a state that does not allow common-law marriages, other states will not recognize it.
Marital issues may be complicated but have long-term consequences. Attorneys can help provide advice and protect legal rights.